Next week, we celebrate our 236th celebration of independence in the United States! As July 4th approaches, keep in mind that this holiday poses some potential dangers to our four-legged friends. But first, I want to give a shout-out to the veterinary toxicology experts at Pet Poison Helpline for some great tips as we approach this summer holiday.
So, what are the biggest pet dangers on July 4th? Fireworks and picnic foods.
Thankfully, most pets aren’t directly exposed to fireworks. However, the biggest perpetrators of July 4th anxiety for your pet are pet noise phobias. The loud gunshot-like sounds can cause anxiety, stress, and fear in pets of all kinds. When in doubt, keep your pet indoors in a quiet, dark room that is isolated from the sound (e.g., the basement). If you know that your pet has a noise phobia, check with your veterinarian in advance — they may be able to prescribe an anti-anxiety drug like alprazolam, or a sedative like acepromazine to help ease the stress. Also, consider the use of white noise in the room — either the TV or the radio. The white noise may help cover the sound of the fireworks. (Personally, I prefer to educate my pets with NPR, so they hear some calm, melodic talking).
If you do store fireworks in your house, keep in mind that unused fireworks can be poisonous if ingested by curious dogs or cats. Fireworks contain hazardous chemicals such as:
- Chlorates (these are potent oxidizing agents which are harmful to red blood cells and kidneys)
- Soluble barium salts (these can cause a life-threatening drop in potassium)
- Coloring agents (which can contain dangerous heavy metals)
Clinical signs of firework poisoning include:
- A painful abdomen
- Bloody diarrhea
- Acute kidney failure
- Bone marrow changes
- Shallow breathing
- Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
As with any poison, the severity of the poisoning is dependent on the type of firework, the amount ingested, and what type of coloring agents it contains. Thankfully, severe poisoning isn’t very common.
Finally, don’t let your dog near the backyard fireworks show you may be having. Fearless, unsupervised dogs may actually be curious enough to approach a lit firework, resulting in thermal burn injuries to the nose, face, lips and mouth, as well as eye irritation. Avoid any problems by keeping pets a safe distance from fireworks — lit or unlit!
Another age-old 4th of July tradition is the family BBQ. With family BBQs, non pet owners may not be aware of how to pet proof, or which foods pose a dangerous threat to pets. Rich savory BBQ meats, desserts, and corn-on-the-cob are the biggest dangers.
While fatty meat isn’t "toxic" per se, it can result in severe pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), resulting in vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, abdominal pain, and even organ failure. Certain breeds like miniature schnauzers, Yorkshire terriers, and Shetland sheepdogs are very predisposed, so don’t even think about giving one of these breeds any July 4th meat snacks!
Desserts made with xylitol, a natural sugar-free sweetener, or foods containing grapes or raisins may also be on the holiday picnic table. Xylitol results in an acute drop in blood sugar and even liver failure at high doses, while grapes and raisins can result in a sudden and severe, even fatal kidney failure.
Lastly, corn-on-the-cob isn’t directly poisonous either, but based on its shape and size, it can easily form a blockage (foreign body) within your dog’s intestines, requiring an expensive intestinal surgery to remove it.
So, before celebrating this summer holiday, be pet-saavy and know what poisons and dangers lurk out there!
How are you celebrating this holiday with your pet?
Dr. Justine Lee